Feb. 17, 2013

The Tyger

by William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

"The Tyger" by William Blake, from The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake. © Anchor Books, 1998. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Chaim Potok (books by this author), born in the Bronx (1929). His parents were immigrants from Poland, and he grew up in a strict Orthodox Jewish culture. When he was about 14 years old, he happened to pick up a copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, and it changed his life. He said, "I lived more deeply inside the world in that book than I lived inside my own world." And over the years, he read as much as he could, and he moved away from his parents' strict beliefs. But when he started to write fiction, he went back to his childhood, and he wrote The Chosen (1967), a best-selling novel about two boys growing up together in Brooklyn in the 1940s. Potok continued their story in The Promise (1969), and wrote about similar conflicts between religious and secular communities in many more novels, including My Name is Asher Lev (1972), The Book of Lights (1981), and a group of three related novellas, Old Men at Midnight (2001).

It's the birthday of poet Jack Gilbert (books by this author), born in Pittsburgh in 1925. He flunked out of high school, worked as a door-to-door salesman and in the steel mill. A clerical error got him admitted to college, and he started writing poetry. He went to Europe and then back to San Francisco, where he hung out with the Beat poets. His first book of poems, Views of Jeopardy (1962), was a hit. It won the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and he won a Guggenheim fellowship. He was all over magazines, and even had photo shoots in Vogue and Glamour. He was talented, he was handsome, and everyone expected great things.

And then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, he dropped out of the limelight, moving to Europe with the money from his fellowship. Finally, in 1982, he published Monolithos, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His most recent book of poems is The Dance Most of All (2009). He died last year at the age of 87.

It's the birthday of crime novelist Ruth Rendell (books by this author), born in London, England (1930). Her parents had a terrible marriage and her mother was ill with multiple sclerosis that went undiagnosed for years, and so young Ruth began writing about her life as if it were a story happening to someone else.

While working as a reporter for a small, suburban London newspaper, she decided to write a detective novel for fun. It was entitled From Doon with Death (1964), and it began an extremely popular series of detective stories starring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford.

Wexford, as Rendell puts it, is not a glamour figure. He's overweight, sloppy, slow-moving, and tempted at times to stray. But in the end, he's a faithful husband and a thoughtful, sensitive, articulate man, and readers love him. Inspector Wexford is still appearing in new mysteries; the latest, No Man's Nightingale, is set to be released this year.

Rendell describes herself as a workaholic, follows the same routine every day, writing for about four hours every morning and then eating the exact same lunch: bread, cheese, salad and fruit. But she has said that, despite producing an average of two books per year for almost 50 years, she doesn't feel like she's churning anything out. "If I did," Rendell explains, "I would stop. I am quite happy to go on doing what I am doing now for the rest of my life. I don't see why I should stop."

It's the birthday of science fiction writer, Andre Norton (books by this author), born Alice Mary Norton in Cleveland, Ohio (1912), who changed her name to "Andre" because she thought she'd have better luck selling her books as a man instead of a woman. Until 1951, Norton had written adventure stories, spy novels, and historical fiction, but after being asked to edit a series of sci-fi anthologies, she wrote her first book in that genre, Star Man's Son 2250 A.D. (1951) and primarily stayed with science fiction after that.

Norton wrote more than 130 novels in her 70 years as a writer, as well as nearly 100 short stories.

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